Fran Healy opens up about ‘emotionally intense’ Travis album ‘L.A. Times’: ‘A lot of life has happened in the last five years’

Published On July 10, 2024 » By »
Travis in 2024. (photo: Steve Gullick)

Travis in 2024 (photo: Steve Gullick)

In 2017, Fran Healy, his partner since 1996, Nora Kryst, and their son Clay moved from Berlin to Los Angeles. “There was no plan,” the frontman for Scottish alt-rock band Travis shrugs. “I happened to be passing through L.A. and I found a house and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful.’ So, we got this house here. … We came for an adventure. And by go, did we get an adventure.”

Fast-forward to 2024. Healy turns 51 this month; he and Kryst have been amicably separated since 2019 (although their split became public news only recently); Clay just graduated from high school; and Healy finds himself at a crossroads in a city that is very much divided and in a transitional phase itself. The bittersweet but beautiful result is L.A. Times, Travis’s 10th album and most personal to date.

In a wide-ranging and refreshingly unfiltered interview that he jokingly likens to a psychotherapy session, Healy opens up about the end of his marriage, fatherhood, death, his decades-spanning bond with his bandmates, finally getting critical respect, his complicated feelings about the “badass” city of Los Angeles, and much, much more.

In the new album L.A. Times, you’re taking stock of life. It’s crazy that The Man Who, Travis’s breakthrough album, came out 25 years ago! And I’ve read that this is your most personal album since then. So, let’s just jump into it, because a lot of life has happened between those records.

A lot of life has happened in the last five years! I’ve always thought about this: If you’re an artist, you’re a teabag, right? And all of your experiences are the tea leaves in the teabag, and then the hot water comes in and out comes the cup of tea. And depending on each individual tea leaf, the tea is the song, is the painting, is the story, is the film, is the poem, is whatever the artist makes. That’s all of these experiences in there. And the last five years of my life of, since coming to L.A. — it was a very insane five years. Not even to mention the fucking pandemic. … But just in personal terms, as far as the geography or the topography of my life, it is completely different. My wife and I split up, which is really amazing and great, but sad as well. My son today [at the time of this interview] is in his last day of school, ever. High school is over today. I just waved goodbye to him. I filmed him going up the road. And if I close my eyes, I can reach out and put my hand on his head12 years ago when he was 6 years old and he’s there. I was just looking at pictures of him and they could have been last week. … So, time’s fucking weird. Anyway, it’s been a really, really, really intense, emotionally intense, five years for me in so many ways. And I think when you make an album through those tea leaves, what you’re left with is quite an intense-flavored album. It’s personal. I think that’s probably the best answer I can give you.

It was a great answer! I definitely want to go into some of that stuff, especially as it pertains to specific songs. But one thing that is interesting to me is over the last five years, or over the last 30 years, there’s been one constant in your life — the lineup of Travis. It’s still you, Dougie Payne, Neil Primrose, and Andy Dunlop, after all these years. There are very few bands I can think of, except maybe U2, that have been around for decades and still have the same lineup they had when they were teenagers. What is your secret?

I think the key to it is we’ve been through a lot, so much, but nothing’s been big enough to blow us up. It’s just some bands get together and they last a few days and some bands last couple of years. The average life expectancy of a band in the wild is approximately seven years average, I would say. … But we’ve way outlived that, and I think the reason is the bonds between the members of the band, or the personalities of the members of the band, are such that it’s like chemistry. They’re covalent bonds that are so tight that nothing… you’d have to smash them in the certain particle accelerator, and I don’t even think that would split us up. We’re a very perfect little four-piece band.

So, you mentioned your divorce… frankly, I was quite surprised when I found out that you and Nora divorced, actually quite a few years ago.

We’re not divorced yet. We’re split up, we’re not coming back together, but we were getting our green card sorted out and we were just like, “We’ll stay married.” We’ll get divorced at some point down the line. We’ll probably get divorced in 10 years, just like when we met it took us 10 years to get married. So, we’ll probably get divorced 10 years’ time.

But the split in general surprised me, because I feel like your relationship was parallel with the trajectory of Travis. Nora was definitely part of the Travis story and figured in some lyrics…

Oh my God, yes, the songs.

But it seems you kept the breakup secret. I don’t think if it was mentioned when 10 Songs came out in 2020. Now I think fans are revisiting that album and putting two and two together, and it all kind of makes sense.

That was a breakup album! I couldn’t talk about it at the time. I was right in it. We were right in the middle of it, so it was like, “Here’s the songs.” I couldn’t talk about it and I didn’t want to talk about it because it was personal. I still don’t. It’s like asking someone to show them their diaries or something. That’s a private thing. But the general idea of it, we were together for 26 years. … Nora and I are old souls together. It’s like when I met Nora or when I meet any person in my life that’s still with me, there’s certain people in your life that you go, “Oh, it’s you again.” When I met Dougie too, I was like, “Ah!” I don’t know why, but I’m just like, “Oh, it’s you again.”

A “we met in a past life” kind of feeling?

Maybe, or maybe he’s like someone in my family constellation. When you grow up, you have your cast… you’ve written all these cast of characters like a sitcom or a soap opera, and then you leave the soap opera and you start your own soap opera and cast your own soap opera. So, you kind of cast similar faces and similar people. And you find in a lot of ways that the person you marry might be a lot like a parent. Nora is very much like people like that in my life. So, that’s that. And then when you come to the end of that relationship, for me and Nora, it’s like nothing’s changed. It’s weird. … You move into this other chapter with them, but they’re in your lives. You’re always “married” to them. I didn’t need to marry Nora to be married to her. I didn’t have to sign a contract with Dougie to be in a band with him. I’m “married” to Dougie. I’m “married” to Neil. I’m “married” to my son. The true sense of marriage is you’re bound to them. You’re a duty, you’re loyal, you’d take a bullet for them — but you’d also push them in front of a train! [laughs]

So, you didn’t want to announce the split four years ago when the last Travis album came out, which I understand, and we don’t need to get into the details now. But why does now feel like the right time to at least publicly address it? “Live It All Again” is specifically about it.

Well, that song comes from that time, but it just didn’t make it on the [10 Songs] record. Everything has a life, everything has a timer. For instance, you don’t know when you’re going to die. When you meet someone, you don’t know how long that relationship’s going to last, but then one day it just stops and you recognize that something shifts in your heart and you go, “Oh.” Some people recognize it but they stay in it and they shouldn’t. The thing for me is if everyone’s happy, Clay most importantly — if Clay’s good and he understands what’s going on — it’s cool. It’s so weird because it doesn’t feel any different. It just now is a more out-in-the-open kind of thing.

It’s interesting that you just mentioned we don’t know when we’re going to die, because there’s a song on L.A. Times called “Alive” that’s actually about that. Is a sense of mortality a running theme throughout this record? I know you recently you turned 50…

That’s running through my entire career! Death is the ultimate thing, isn’t it? I don’t know if you’ve seen a dead body before… but if you have, that’s for me when you get really like, “Whoa, that’s fucking final. They’re not there anymore. Where the fuck are they?” And then having Clay, having my son, having kids, I was looking at pictures the other night and I’m like, “Where the fuck is that little boy?” Literally, he’s got the same fucking amount of particles and every single one is different. He’s a completely different person now, renewed. Where’s that little boy? Where did he go? He’s dead, is where he went. That little boy, he’s no longer there. So, you go through your life and it’s like we’re dying in a way, every day. … [Travis’s members] are all around about 40, 50, at that point in our lives where you can’t quite tell if it’s sunset or sunrise. But all these memories and the way that time passes and the idea of death is big in my [songwriting]; whole loads of songs talk about it. I’ve always been fascinated with it, ever since I saw my first dead body.

I think a lot of people think of Travis’s music as being cheerful, because there is such a brightness to your sound. I don’t know if casual listeners really think of Travis as being a band that ruminates about such things.

Yeah, definitely. If you look at the singles, then that wouldn’t be apparent. Maybe on “Why Does It Always Rain on Me.” Maybe on “Writing to Reach You”…

Or “Driftwood.”

Definitely! See? They’re there, but there’s a certain thing about the songs that the music does, something that makes you feel… it’s bittersweet. It’s two things at once. There’s a song called “Indefinitely” [from The Invisible Band] that’s definitely like that. Nothing’s off the table when you’re writing a song. If you get a good melody, and then you’re like, “Oh fuck, it’s about death. Fuck it. It’s got a great melody.” Or, “Oh fuck, this one’s about life. Oh, great. It’s got a great melody. I don’t care what it’s about.” I don’t sit down and go, “I’m going to write a song about this.” It just comes out and it becomes the thing.

Do you feel like sometimes Travis haven’t been taken seriously critically, that you’ve been dismissed as this jolly, feelgood band, when obviously that’s not the full picture at all?

Well, we made a documentary about it!  It’s called Almost Fashionable. … We were never part of the scene in Glasgow. We were always outside of it. And then in London, we were still on the outside of it. And then suddenly one day we were “it,” the type of band that are like doormen. The Strokes are another band like that — they open the door for all these other bands to come through. It’s not because you’re good or bad, you just happen to be there with that sound at that time when no one else has it. And you open a door. You’re a window for everyone else, I think.

Do we suffer from not being taken seriously? I don’t know. … I’ve always felt like we led, because I don’t know how to follow. We’re doing our own thing and it is what it is, a fucking take-it-or-leave-it type of thing. But journalism, everything’s like that — 90 fucking percent of it is followers and 10 percent are leaders, so you’ve got 90 percent of the journalists just going, “Oh, they’re shit. They’re fucking rubbish. Don’t listen to them.” And then they come and meet us and they’re like, “Oh, I thought you were this, but you’re [not].” And that’s what that documentary speaks to. It’s about bringing a journalist who hates our band on the road with us. That’s the whole premise of it. I wanted to tell our story through the eyes of someone who hates our guts and see them change and go, “Oh fuck, I didn’t get that. I’m completely wrong.”

It’s very interesting to me that Chris Martin and Brandon Flowers are on the new track “Raze the Bar,” because particularly with Coldplay, I remember when they first came out, people were comparing them to Travis. I would say Travis opened that door for Coldplay, and maybe for the Killers as well.

[The Killers] walked through the Strokes’ door. But yeah, there’s always going to be that band, like Suede who were the doormen for Britpop — absolutely the DNA of that whole thing came out of that band. It was almost like they were the shape, and you had to get into that shape to pass through the shape of that door. And bands that came after us had to be Travis-shaped. And Coldplay came through. But Chris is a shapeshifter. That’s what he does better than anyone. What he also does, as one of the best, is melody. And that’s why all these bands still are playing songs and still doing their thing, because they’re good at writing melodies that move you, that make you forget about your worries for a minute.

At the beginning of this interview, you started talking about how this chaotic five-year period of your life coincided with your move to Los Angeles. And obviously this album is called L.A. Times. The dichotomy of this city is sort of similar to how we were describing Travis: There’s a happy side to it and a sunny side,, but also a lot of darkness. So, let’s talk about how L.A., which is my hometown, inspired this record. I know that you have a studio near Skid Row, which is Downtown L.A.’s absolute contrast of wealth and poverty, right there in one city block.

Yeah. It’s the boundary of desperation and humanity and all these things are happening in that little area of Los Angeles. Though I lived in New York for 14 years… L.A.’s a much harder city than New York. Much, much harder. I think it’s a badass city. I think of you’ve got everything going on here. And I feel like L.A. is like a coal mine’s canary for the world at the moment. It’s going through a period of convulsions. It’s like a vortex of something that nobody can quite put their finger on. There’s something going on, possibly at a quantum level here, in this locale of the quantum soup. Here’s why it’s always going to be hard moving to L.A. from a city like, say, New York. Everyone’s bashing off each other in the streets of New York. It’s multicultural. Los Angeles is multicultural, but it’s also very segregated. This is [my view] coming in as an outsider. … Everyone sticks to their own thing. The English over there, the Irish over there, the Black people over there, there’s Latinos over there. There’s that [division] everywhere in the world, but in L.A. it’s harder because it’s sprawl. It’s a big giant thing. And everyone drives, so we’re never out bashing off each other. We’re never up in each other’s faces so much. We’re not rehearsed in that here.

And so, there’s a certain detachment that when you come in from the outside. You notice it and you’re like, “Whoa, that’s weird.” But it’s not detachment. It’s something else. It’s a state of mind that you need to survive in this place, in this environment.  And probably, because you’ve always lived here, you might not see it. I see it. … I see another side of it that you’ll never see. It’s a mind-blowing city, an amazing city as an artist to be in, especially right now, but you’ve got global warming happening here, right on your doorstep, things bursting into flames, fucking things flooding at the same time. You’ve got this crazy homeless thing going on, like just nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Homelessness has always been an issue in L.A., just like it unfortunately is in any major city, but it has gotten exponentially worse in recent years.

Well, again, I talk about L.A. being this place that’s very segregated. This culture’s here, that culture’s there, this culture’s there. You’ve got the poor aspect of the city… but what I’ve learned interestingly is that [the homelessness] have community. I stayed in my house in Hollywood Hills for six years, and when I was moving out, I met my neighbor for the first time. And that’s not really communal. That’s the opposite of communal! It’s like a “fuck off and leave me alone” type of thing. But [homeless people] are not saying that. I walk through Skid Row almost every day, and there’s community. … People have been living there for so long that it’s their fucking lives. We all look at it go, “Oh, it’s disgusting,” but they’ve got more community than us. In chasing the dollar and joining the rat race and paying the bills, we’ve maybe lost something that’s priceless. And I think that it’s hard for a city like L.A. to pull together when the geography of it doesn’t allow it to happen. That’s why L.A.’s badass and actually New York is not as hard to live in because it’s multicultural and it’s all together. New York is fucking mental, but everyone’s in it together.

The homelessness [in Los Angeles] is a symptom of something. Not a symptom of L.A., though. It’s a symptom of a whole big thing. And that’s why I’m saying it’s a coal miners’ canary at the moment, where there’s something happening here. It’s like when you’re tipping a tree and everything’s gathering in a corner. Everything’s gathering roundabout here at the moment. As an artist, if you’re a sensitive soul, you pick it up. And who knows? We’re all on the bloody San Andreas fault, which is lingering in the background a little bit. I don’t think about it. And you don’t think about it. But that’s there too.

Obviously moving here was a big cultural and lifestyle shift for you, and it’s complicated. Do you think you will stay here?

No, no. I don’t stay anywhere. I’ll stay for maybe another four or five years and then I want to go somewhere else. I was born in Stafford, we moved to Glasgow, and then I moved down to London, then I went to Berlin, New York, L.A. I don’t know where to go next. Maybe Japan.

Let’s end this interview by going all the way back to the beginning. There’s one single from L.A. Times, “Bus,” that is all about your pre-fame years in Glasgow. Tell me about that.

Well, there’s lots of different things in that song. One is I only traveled on buses my whole life until I got to about 18. … Most of my formative life was spent sitting on buses and waiting on buses, when you didn’t have anything else to do. And as you go through life, especially if you write songs, you start to think about metaphor and a bus stop being quite a good metaphor for your entire life, where you sort of wait for things to happen. … You’re sort of standing at the bus stop waiting for this thing, and all this stuff happens while you’re there. And then eventually you may want to walk to the next bus stop, and then five buses pass and you’re like, “Fuck’s sake, I should have just waited.” The lesson of the song is your bus is going to come. You might miss it, but you’re meant to miss it. It’s not for you. That was someone else’s bus. But you’ll always get your bus. It’ll always come and it’ll have your name on it.

This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity. Watch Fran Healy’s entire conversation in the split-screen video above.


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